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Passenger Trains > Some thoughts on what might feature in the Amtrak reauthorization


Date: 03/13/19 08:37
Some thoughts on what might feature in the Amtrak reauthorization
Author: Railvt

So lets really do a deep dive here on how Amtrak Reauthorization might be designed in a way which remotely (and it still is only remotely) might facilitate the emergence of new corridor services. The problems, as I will suggest, are immense, but money can cure many ills. Very importantly please also note that these are my own views and have not been either discussed or endorsed by the RPA/NARP at this time. 

Amtrak's Reauthorization could actually open a window to help here, by making the state support issue less onerous and by finding a way to make the freight carriers really see passenger trains as a positive business-line.  Originally added state-requested short-distance Amtrak Section 403B trains (created in addition to the original core Amtrak network) only required a 2/3rds state-out of pocket cost subsidy contribution. Better idea--what about 50/50, or 60/40? But this would still not be enough without freight carriers buying into to allowing more passenger trains on their most important lines. 

Now it's the states' responsibility to fund 100% of any added (under 750 miles) service(s), based on an incomprehensible formula which is basically that a state(s) must pay whatever Amtrak says a train costs.  

The States for Passenger Rail coalition is very unhappy about how opaque it all is. How could they not be? As the RPA/NARP has decisively proven, Amtrak itself can not properly break out its direct operating costs. But these ideas might also force them to finally face that analysis. But even then, even if the cost were 50/50 or even 65/35 or any other split you like, things only work if every state on a route will play.

That killed the original 1971 version of the LAKESHORE.  New York, PA, OH, IN and Il were all supposed to contribute, but could never agree on a way/formula to split the costs. Even though the initial LAKESHORE was very well used it vanished for 5 years, only to return as an "Amtrak Experimental Route" under a now-repealed part of the Amtrak law, which called for the company to start one such service every year to "see if it would work". In the case of 48/49 it did. Sadly that process is long gone!  

All this talk of new regional corridors also belies the fundamental operational problem of freight rail capacity and receptiveness. Amtrak and Virginia, for example, are ready to go with an added Lynchburg to Washington train, but NS won't even quote a cost/shopping list for any capacity improvements they might want. In truth the slot already used three times per week for the CARDINAL from Charlottesville to DC could easily be expanded to serve what would in effect be a second section of Train 50/51 that would continue from Charlottesville to Lynchburg--where layover facilities already exist for the train that now starts in Roanoke, but NS won't even talk.  

Look finally at how recently the NS former New York Central mainline has turned, too often, into a parking lot for freight trains (and Amtrak) between Elkhart and Chicago to understand why an obviously under-served corridor like Chicago-Toledo-Cleveland may be impossible to create without massive capital investment that goes far beyond any operational subsidy demands. To make this fluid the third (and fourth) tracks the NYC pulled up long ago under Al Perlman's direction need to be restored. Fortunately the right of way is intact, but it's a really large cost! 

If the Congress is serious, if Amtrak is serious, about developing meaningful new regional trains (a truly great idea) it must create a funding formula that actually incentivizes both the states and the freight railroads to get on board. Tax incentives for the carriers would clearly help to drawn them in, but much more important would be a recognition that the states can not alone pay the full operational freight of a true national Amtrak network. We funded Interstate Highways on a 90% Federal/10% state basis. No one said no to that offer.  

Noting that it's no longer the flush 1950s, how about a Federal commitment that the current National Network of interstate/long-distance routes is a Federal responsibility, but that existing and new services which connect to it (which would include the current state-supported links) will be cost split 50/50 for operations?  Further, the Federal contribution to needed new start capital expenses would split 60% Federal, and 40% states, but in addition if a freight carrier joined in to relieve the states/Feds of any part of that investment, it would enjoy a tax credit equal to the full value of its contribution and an annual tax deduction equal to the added maintenance expense for the new capacity.  

This still does not relieve the issue of how to get multiple states to buy into corridors that of necessity would cross state lines, but perhaps we could develop a formula balancing mileage and projected ridership to help with that? This will not be cheaper than the present system for dividing Amtrak costs, but it does not make the Feds the sole funder either. What this is is better by being more balanced, more likely to encourage growth, and more reflective of how Amtrak incorporates the ideal of why we have a Federal government in this country--because there are issues that transcend state lines. Amtrak is the perfect example.
 
Carl Fowler
Vice Chair
Rail Passengers Association
(The comments above are my own views)



Date: 03/13/19 09:54
Re: Some thoughts on what might feature in the Amtrak reauthoriza
Author: MEKoch

I think your conclusion about Federal, State and railroad partnership to build shot distance corridors is correct.  We have seen the examples of this effort in CA, NC, MI, IL, etc.    And tax incentives for the railroads would be a nice plum to lure them to work cooperatively in this effort.  Getting multi-states involved will be more of a struggle, but it can happen.  Having the states lead this effort (not Amtrak) would give local politicians a stake in their rail service.  This local and state effort means things happen from the bottom (citiies, towns, states), and not from the top (Amtrak and Federal Government).  Rail passenger service with that model has much broader support, when the "locals citizens" are pushing the effort.   That was amply demonstrated when Amtrak wanted to dissect the Southwest Chief route.  Local cities and riders spoke up loudly; they were heard by their state politicians, who stopped Amtrak's misguided efforts. 



Date: 03/13/19 10:21
Re: Some thoughts on what might feature in the Amtrak reauthoriza
Author: amtrakbill

All is very thought provoking

Thank you

Posted from iPhone



Date: 03/13/19 12:05
Re: Some thoughts on what might feature in the Amtrak reauthoriza
Author: PRSL-recall

Carl, you have some really great thoughts here as do each of your ideas and submissions. I've read these and just thought I'd share with you what comes to my mind at least if its of any value. In paragraphs 2 and 9 you brought up the subject of the freight carriers and of course that's a hot one when it comes to new corridors or to increased frequencies. Your thoughts center around how to get the freight carriers more involved and interested, what might be to their benefit and how they might be persuaded. When all this comes to mind I seriously wonder if they currently have the same relationship with Amtrak as so many of us do, and its possible that the attitude varies from carrier to carrier. Seems like NS is the one most sour. I recall reading an article within the last few months that basically stated that NS has tried to raise discussions with Amtrak from their end. I would not at all be surprised if they have gotten the same response as have communications from AAPRCO, NARP, United Rail Passenger Alliance, NJ-ARP, Rail Users Network, the late Joseph Boardman, John Heffner, Railpac, TWU/Amtrak Service Workers Council and M.E. Singer. We can also add both chambers of Congress as we have yet to see full compliance with passed budget language and response to the 02/22/2019 letter from the House Subcommittee although Amtrak continues to broadcast whenever and whatever it wants and then, with the seeming intent to distract attention.  So I wonder if there's any coincidence that freight carriers can be obstinate too. From my perspective these days Amtrak has a visible mouth to speak its own language but no responsive ears.

In paragrpahs 3 and 4 I pick up on the fact that States currently  "must pay whatever Amtrak says a train costs"  for under-750 mile train routes. Also  "As the RPA/NARP has decisively proven, Amtrak itself can not properly break out its direct operating costs. But these ideas might also force them to finally face that analysis."  The "forcing"  does seem optimistic as so many of those cited above as well as others have tried to raise this issue without real success. 

Finally in paragraph 8 and concerning  "if Amtrak is serious "  who can really get a handle on this! My points Carl are not at all to throw water on your thoughts. The problem is that rather whenever and wherever anything is expected of Amtrak the record is not good under the current leadership.

Something needs to happen. There needs to be a total reorganization within and / or much closer federal oversight. Also it sure looks like Airnet-21 needs to happen. Personally I would not frequently find myself on the same side of the "fence" as NY Governor Andrew Cuomo but I fully understand why he doesn't trust Amtrak with Gateway.

 



Date: 03/13/19 13:08
Re: Some thoughts on what might feature in the Amtrak reauthoriza
Author: Railvt

On Amtrak/freight rail communication there is probably fire indeed rising from the smoke you cite. Particularly since the coming of Richard Anderson Amtrak has been almost impossible to get a straight answer from. There On Time Performance:" report card is just the ticket to piss the carriers off and I'm not sure it helps otherwise if there is no explanation of the cause(s) of the delays. As bad as NS is to the CRESCENT they are just fine out of Norfolk and Roanoke, and on good days Cleveland to Chicago. You'd never guess that from Amtrak's score card.



Date: 03/13/19 14:55
Re: Some thoughts on what might feature in the Amtrak reauthoriza
Author: djansson

I believe something like that happened to the San Joaquins. Amtrak originally wanted SP to be the carrier (a no-brainer as SP's main line ran righty down the middle of the major Central Valley cities!), but SP trying to score serious money in track work (they were running passenger trains on that line?). Santa Fe siad they could do it, and that was that.



Date: 03/13/19 15:25
Re: Some thoughts on what might feature in the Amtrak reauthoriza
Author: joemvcnj

Railvt Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> On Amtrak/freight rail communication there is
> probably fire indeed rising from the smoke you
> cite. Particularly since the coming of Richard
> Anderson Amtrak has been almost impossible to get
> a straight answer from. There On Time
> Performance:" report card is just the ticket to
> piss the carriers off and I'm not sure it helps
> otherwise if there is no explanation of the
> cause(s) of the delays. As bad as NS is to the
> CRESCENT they are just fine out of Norfolk and
> Roanoke, and on good days Cleveland to Chicago.
> You'd never guess that from Amtrak's score card.

Probably also a P-R ploy to show they are noticing and give a damned, whereas they really do not, and late trains fit their agenda to drive up costs and passengers off the trains.



Date: 03/13/19 21:28
Re: Some thoughts on what might feature in the Amtrak reauthoriza
Author: jp1822

This whole corridor plan revolves around a "bait and switch." Sure - we'll give you some grants now to start a corridor train service be it for new equipment, a reduced operating rate over the "corridor," or infrastructure upgrades/improvemets. But the grants are going to stop flowing from Amtrak to the States and eventually the States bear 100% of WHATEVER cost Amtrak gives them. That doesn't work, and it definitely doesn't work when the freight railroads have rationalized their plant down to a level they feel is manageable for freight service - not passenger AND freight service. Gone is the second, third, or fourth track on the mainline. Amtrak needs a significant financial commitment from Congress to expand the plant and establish these corridors if they are to operate as current Amtrak management has laid out. 

I also don't understand (well, aside from the obvious - do an outright kill the LD trains) how current management does not see that their is already significant corridor routes to be developed out of current long distance routes. It would be beneficial for the development of corridor trains and the sustainability of long distance trains if these routes are identified and worked on first. For example, Washington DC to Atlantia is a corridor to be developed. It's also part of the Crescent's route. If you "develop" that corridor (e.g. so as to dramatically improve trip time, add the second or third track where bottlenecks or passing sidings need to be on the route), perhaps it will produce a day-time train that is competitive to driving and allow for more Roanoke/Lynchburg/Charlottesville frequencies (northern Virginia) Moreover, the key would be to speed up the trip time of the Crescent. So now one also has the choice of a day-time corridor train to the Southeast, or an evening/overnight run from the Northeast to early morning arrival at Atlanta. THAT part of the Crescent is already highly successful with overnight passengers, it would just be augmented. 

But who funds the day-time corridor between Washington DC and Atlanta when it runs through three States. You've got a 634 mile route between Washington DC and Atlanta. This can be repeated on a NUMBER of existing LD trains. Strengthen those first and make'em the test bed. When the States get priced out of the market - when the grant money runs out and they have to pay 100% of the operating costs, at least the upgrades and any investment can still be of benefit to the long distance trains. 

Lowering the magical 750 mile number - to make some state trains part of the national network appropriation - would help in the grander scheme of things!  



Date: 03/14/19 04:59
Re: Some thoughts on what might feature in the Amtrak reauthoriza
Author: joemvcnj

Senator Lautenberg (D- NJ) and Boardman agreed on 750 miles to urge the legislation to specifially draw the line between specific trains. The Palmetto (829) and Capitol Ltd (780) lie just outside of it, already state-supported 403b Carolinian (704) just inside of it. 



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 03/14/19 05:00 by joemvcnj.



Date: 03/14/19 06:31
Re: Some thoughts on what might feature in the Amtrak reauthoriza
Author: Duna

joemvcnj Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Senator Lautenberg (D- NJ) and Boardman agreed on
> 750 miles to urge the legislation to specifially
> draw the line between specific trains. The
> Palmetto (829) and Capitol Ltd (780) lie just
> outside of it, already state-supported 403b
> Carolinian (704) just inside of it. 


This is another example of top-down decision making not justified by objective infomation or rational objectives. A political decision first and foremost.

Only after the decision is made are reports & media generated that back up that decision. Any information contrary to the decision is ignored.

The more expensive a project or program, the more likely decisions are made top-down vs. bottom-up (gather info> develop alternatives > analysis > decision)

This is how the sausage is made. Sometimes it works, usually it doesn't (CAHSR and a long list of other expensive projects).

The good of the travelling public & taxpayers/nation don't really come into play.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 03/14/19 07:32 by Duna.



Date: 03/14/19 07:38
Re: Some thoughts on what might feature in the Amtrak reauthoriza
Author: joemvcnj

What we had prior to PRIIA-209 was 403b, which appeared to be a random scatter-shot of some short haul trains requiring state subsidies and others not. I think 3 San Diegans were Amtrak system trains, all additional had to be state-supported. It was really a function of what survived on May 1, 1971, or what Tom Downs/Mercer Consulting threw overboard in the mid-1990's (Hiawatha, Keystone, Atlantic City). It was still a very arbitrary system. No regard to crossing state lines with PRIIA either, which brings increased difficulty of states supporting those services.   



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 03/14/19 07:40 by joemvcnj.



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